The Montreal indie scene seems so small these days; like every electronically-inflicted pop act once shared an apartment or something. Grimes associate/collaborator Doldrums comes from, and on his album Lesser Evil embodies, this psychedelics-infused group of pop auteurs. But, despite being equipped with a savoir faire for electronic pop composition, Doldrums’ music exhibits less of the reckless adventurousness or idiosyncratic catchiness of some of his colleagues. Songwriting on Lesser Evil is rooted in electronic dance music, and though the sounds and tones on this album reach inspired heights, this is ultimately not an album to get excited about, instead it is one you have to let wash over you.
Much of Lesser Evil plays like the incidental soundtrack to an electronic jungle, with tonal highlights like “Egypt” sending bubbling, ricocheting synth parts against walls that hit them back like they’re steel drums. The issue with even songs like “Egypt” is that they posture as pop music, without acknowledging the fact that they’re not composed as pop songs; there is almost nothing catchy or hooking about them in the way that a pop song should be catchy or hooking. There is no reference, if you will, to a larger canon of pop music.
It is one thing to criticize an album of electronic music for not sounding like pop music (a stupid thing, in fact), but entirely another when that album is so insistent on being one of pop music. Because on every other ground, Lesser Evil soars. This is electronica produced and presented in such an off the cuff way that the sounds actually feel like they’re being groaned forth from some alien being. The tone of the album, too, fits perfectly with Doldrums’ themes of mental reclusion and creating a fantasy world in one’s own mind.
But the songs tend to shrug along much in the way that pop songs would, only barely allowing the electronic majesties they contain to break free and stretch their limbs. This is a bottom-heavy album as far as its pop aspects are concerned. Later tracks like “Lesser Evil” and “Golden Calf” come perhaps the closest to the true synthesis of compositional electronic music and doom pop that seems to have been the thesis for the album. This song slides lush, synthesized chord progressions under airy vocals. Ultimately, Lesser Evil is an album I do recommend serious music listeners seek out; it is vibrant and at many points radically unique – but more than that it is in some ways the first attempt at a musical thesis, one synergizing all aspects of an entire movement in pop music. It is an album that is worth studying, from an artist who still has a few kinks in his craft to work through.